Sunday, March 31, 2019

Curtain Call

It would be nice to report that every public school provides its students with the same opportunities to participate in artistic and other endeavors that go beyond your basic, nuts and bolts education. Unfortunately, politics, priorities and funds dictate otherwise, so it’s up to resourceful parents combined with visionary faculty and local school administrations to fill in the gap. That said, the penultimate word of the week goes to the Godmother of Stone and the hardest working person in CPS, Virginia Falkner:
I joined Friends of Stone Academy in 2010, a year after my daughter started at the school. We choose Stone because of their dedication to the arts within the school and FOSA was working hard to raise funds to continue arts programming at the school. When we started, there was arts programming in several of the grades but not all (Theater Arts in 2nd grade, Blues in the School in 4th grade, Spanish dance in 3rd grade, ballroom dancing in 5th grade). Over the years we have been able to raise more and more money and now fund an arts experience in each grade at Stone Academy. We are also very lucky to still have a full time Art and full time Music teacher and to be able to perform a Spring Musical each year since we have been at the school. It is a great experience for the younger students to be able to enjoy musicals in the school setting and even more influential for those students in 5th-8th grade who choose to perform in the musical and go through the full process of musical theater. We have had several fun productions in the past few years, Shrek Jr and Peter Pan Jr, which have been great for the younger audiences but this year’s cast pulled off a more serious musical with Fiddler on the Roof and did a fabulous job. FOSA is thrilled to be able to also help fund the musical to provide costumes and sets that help the students present spectacular productions. The arts are definitely still alive at Stone Academy.

My heart thanks to Jamie Perry, Caleb Naimy, Virginia Falkner and especially to the wonderful cast and crew of Stone Academy’s “Fiddler on the Roof” for creating something magnificent and beautiful which will live on in the hearts of all of us who were there to witness it for a very long time. A special shout out goes to principal Jay Brandon for his great support.

Now it’s only fair to save the last word of the week for the students of Stone who have some reflections to share:
Musical theater at Stone has taught be to believe in myself. I’m able to express myself, and do what I love most. My favorite part of this year’s production was getting my dream role. It made me feel like all my hard work over the past four years had paid off. I can leave Stone remembering all the good times I had in their productions, and that no matter what I decide to do in life, musical theater gave me the confidence to do it.
Sadie K. eighth grade

Musicals at Stone never disappoint. The hard work and adherence offered by the teachers and students ensure performances that the audience and performers will never forget. It is an honor to be a part of the cast and is an experience that I will cherish forever. Additionally, being part of a theatre group builds confidence and public speaking skills valued in all careers. Everyone involved deserves an enormous thank you for making this possible.
Ella W. eighth grade 

My experience during “Fiddler on the Roof” was something extraordinary. It was like having a whole family night at school, and being able to do a show was something I felt privileged to do. This family even made me and others cry during/before the last performance.
 Anya T. sixth grade

Saturday, March 30, 2019


As I mentioned in a previous post, as soon as the curtain went up, the work of the three adults involved in “Fiddler on the Roof” was finished. Come performance time, the students handled all the technical aspects of the production including lighting, sound, effects, set changes, costume changes and stage direction, while the adults sat in the audience, perhaps just a little more nervous than most. During the third and final public performance, I was granted the special privilege of observing the play from the wings. It was from there I saw individuals whom I’ve known for years, mostly as little kids on the playground, take on the responsibility of working together without supervision to make a production come alive. There was a sense of purpose. It was all for one, one for all; in all my years of coaching youth sports, I never saw such devotion to the team. Despite the brief moments of levity depicted in the photograph above which took place during a rare moment of calm as the action took place before a closed curtain, everyone performed their job with dead seriousness. It was a joy to watch.

As the music teacher and one of the theatre directors, it is so exciting for me to have such a thriving arts community here at Stone Academy. Thanks to our Friends of Stone Academy parent Organization, we are able to produce fully staged musicals each year with full costumes, sets, microphones and lighting. There many CPS schools who don’t have the resources to accomplish such a task, and without our FOSA organization we would be in the same boat. FOSA sponsored events have resulted in large donations over the last few years to upgrade our sound system and lights, and each year sponsors the musical expenses like costumes, sets, and rights/royalties.

Another amazing thing about the Arts programs at Stone Academy is the diversity. Every year, we are able to tie in our students’ culture to the script. Our school population is so diverse and rich in culture, we are always able to find real life experiences to inform our performances. In Fiddler on The Roof, we were able to work with a large group of Jewish students to talk about their customs and make sure we were being culturally appropriate with costumes and gestures. When we produced Peter Pan, we were able to have a discussion with a family who had Native American ties, to make sure we were culturally sensitive to the “Brave Indians” in the script. In The Lion King, we were able to work with students from Nigeria and Ethiopia to incorporate traditional African movement into the choreography. Celebrating our cultural diversity through the arts is my favorite part of Stone Academy, and I hope the readers and viewers of CPS Lives can see that through these photographs. 
-Caleb Naimy

Friday, March 29, 2019

Act II

Our daughter came home one evening in September and told us her teachers selected this year’s musical, but wouldn’t let on what it was. The only thing they offered was that it was “old school.” Her mother and I thought for a second and came up with two possibilities, “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Then I said” no, both of those are too sad.” It turned out I greatly underestimated the will of the teachers. 

The story of Fiddler on the Roof is about a particular group of people living in a specific time and place, a shtetl in Tzarist Russia. Yet themes such as family, love, loss, and the question of what is expected of us in a radically changing world are universal. Unfortunately its darker themes, intolerance, hatred and oppression, still hit close to home today. Heady stuff indeed for a middle school play. Even more poignant is the fact that the cast and crew of the play reflect the tremendous diversity at Stone, its members representing at least five of the seven continents, and all the major religions. It's very likely that they also speak nearly a dozen languages at home. In the following, teacher Jamie Perry reflects on bringing such a disparate cast together to tell a simple but powerful story about nothing less than what it means to be a human being. 

We worked very hard to teach the students to be respectful of costume pieces, and we did adjust some things to respect the cultures of our students. I didn’t want anything mistreated that would disrespect the Jewish culture. So, we constantly reminded students they had to be careful to respect the tallit or tzitzit, and they should always be worn correctly, hung up correctly, and treated with respect. Our rabbi was a Muslim student, and at first he would come out on stage with his costume worn incorrectly. I frequently tried to make religious comparisons to the significance or symbolism of certain garments in his religion, so he would understand the importance of his costume. One student could not pretend to drink alcohol in “To Life.” When we wanted to cast him I asked if being in the scene would be an issue. He assured me it would not, but I asked him to discuss it with his parents. I kept checking in with him and he insisted it was fine. But around week three he came to me and told me he definitely could not pretend to drink. So, we added the line “Mordcha, bring me a glass of water and a bottle of your finest for Tevye.” During one dress rehearsal he forgot to say that line and didn’t realize it, so I reminded him a lot that last week. It also helped to have four Jewish students in the show. They were our experts and often spoke to the cast about their culture, or explained things like the Sabbath, Challah, etc. They also helped cast members with pronunciations, like ‘L’Chaim’. Educating our students about the time period, pogroms, the Jewish culture and traditions, the costume pieces, etc., was extremely important to us as directors. It was also very rewarding, to see the students begin to truly understand the historical significance of the production.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Act One

There were over fifty cast members In Stone Academy’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, some of whom played two or three different roles, each requiring a separate costume. As if that Herculean task wasn’t enough, Stone parent Virginia Falkner had to wear many hats in her role as costume designer. First and foremost it was of the utmost importance to pay close attention to detail, respecting the Jewish culture represented in the play. She also had to play the role of engineer/magician, helping design the apparatus that went along with the costume for the nine foot Fruma-Sarah. Even more terrifying than the scene which features the ghostly apparition, was witnessing the trial run of her costume. I’m happy to report that the costume and the three student-actors it took to inhabit it survived the play unscathed. It goes without saying that much of the credit for the look of the show belongs to Virginia. Here, she shares the joys and a few of the struggles that are part of one of her very many roles at Stone. 
My first year of costume design at Stone was for “Once on this Island” where the costumes consisted of sarongs all tied in different manners, a very simple solution but effective for the tropical setting. But my job was just cutting large rectangles of fabric. Over the years our costume budget increased as the plays got more complicated; lions, mermaids, pirates and fairy tale characters to name a few. Each year there would be a costume that would be hard to get just right; mermaids in “Peter Pan” and Humpty Dumpty in “Shrek”. Often those become my favorite costumes in the end. The poor student who played Humpty Dumpty was so anxious to get his costume. Unfortunately it was the very last to be completed after three failed efforts but I think we both loved it in the end. Sometimes there are costume fails like the poor student whose pants ripped with the complicated choreography (luckily it was in dress rehearsal and we got them re-enforced for the show) and the bottle dancers whose bottles didn’t stay on their heads until the very last dress rehearsal. We then went through 3 shows without a fail! It’s been fun to work with the students on their costumes. In many cases the kids will be skeptical about a complicated costume but then see the effect and really bring the character to life. It is interesting how the costume can really help the kids feel more like the character and bring on the personality. The costumes for “Fiddler on the Roof” seem simple since they were regular clothes, but it was important to find things that didn’t look modern, but fit the time and culture. When you put all the students together, costumes can be so powerful. Seeing them in pictures always makes me happy since in the moment I sometimes only see the tiniest little issue!
- Virginia Falkner

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


With three full dress rehearsals under their belts, Stone Scholastic Academy’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is now a well oiled machine. Lines are delivered, timing is spot on, high notes are nailed, emotions are properly expressed and the technical glitches are smoothed out. All that’s left for the three adults is to make sure everything is in place and take the cast and crew through a final warm up exercise in the gym as the audience files into the auditorium. From here on it’s all in the kids’ hands.
The theater program at Stone Academy was founded in 2007 by Jamie Perry, and former music teacher Bill Marsland. Ms. Perry recalls: “I studied theater as an undergrad and had done a lot of directing before moving into education and coming to Stone in 2006. So, when Bill was hired we discussed trying to direct a musical. The first year was a total experiment. We didn’t have an elaborate set or costumes; we had a very limited budget, and we just did the best we could with limited resources. Every year we’ve added things, and tried to tackle more and more complex shows. Fiddler is my fourth collaboration with Caleb (Falle). His unbelievable talent and incredible work ethic is the reason the shows have continued to grow and evolve into the high level of productions we now produce. “

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Dress Rehearsal

My first encounter with Stone Academy’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was during the controlled chaos of the first dress rehearsal. I must admit having some doubts as cues were missed, lines were flubbed or forgotten, upper register notes were non-existent, and at one point the show had to be stopped as the school principal came in to lecture the kids about some long forgotten breach of protocol. In other words, it was a typical middle school experience. My favorite stage direction came during the second half of the play when an exasperated director yelled to the star of the show: “it’s your daughter, she’s leaving home, you’ll never see her again, you need to look sad!” There were also a handful of technical difficulties as the last picture in this group illustrates. But participating in the process reminded me of my several experiences documenting construction projects: a week before opening, never in your wildest dreams do you believe they’ll get the thing put together. But as if by magic, they always do.

About sixty students including cast and crew participated in the play. A grand total of three adults, all pictured in this sequence, also participated. Director Jamie Perry’s day job is Stone’s fifth through eighth grade Spanish teacher. Her co-director is Stone’s music teacher Caleb Falle. Rounding out the trio was costume designer Virginia Falkner whose many additional contributions to Stone are as parent, Treasurer, and past President of FOSA. We’ll hear from all three of them over the course of this week. In tomorrw's post I’ll share some thoughts from Ms. Perry whom it should be noted, has been an integral part of the theater program at Stone since its inception.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The School Play

I took a brief hiatus from my work at Senn High School to work at another school, Stone Academy, a K-8 magnet school in the neighborhood of Edgewater, on the far north side of Chicago. When I first signed on with CPS Lives, I had three requirements for the school in which I would work. First, it had to have an interesting story. Second, as I have other things going on in my life, it had to be reasonably close to home. Most important, for my children’s sake it could not be a school that either of them attended. Stone fit the first two requirements. I threw caution to the wind after one of my daughter’s teachers, a co-director of the annual school play asked me to make production photographs. It was hard to resist the request for many reasons, not the least of which, it gave me the opportunity to give a little back to the school our family has been a part of for the past twelve years. In our time at Stone, our children have had more than their share of outstanding teachers under the direction of three excellent principals. Yet a public school’s success depends upon more than a staff of highly motivated professionals. It takes a strong commitment from parents, especially in this day of ever dwindling support for public education, to enable a school to provide children with more than a rudimentary education.

Stone Academy is blessed with a support group led by parents who with the help of faculty, administration, the Local School Council and the PTA, make events such as the school play a reality, an event that schools in more affluent districts take for granted. Incorporated in 2008, Friends of Stone Academy (FOSA) has raised funds to cover the costs of a variety of supplemental academic, athletic and arts programs, with the expressed goal of providing these opportunities at no cost to students and their families. From FOSA’s mission statement: “These programs promote literacy, cultural awareness, and contribute to the educational, physical, and emotional development of our children.”

The photographs I’ll be posting this week of Stone Academy’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof“ and some of the preparation leading up to it, are testimony to the hard work, commitment and dedication of the students, faculty, administration and our fellow parents of Stone, and to the tireless efforts of the members of FOSA, past present and future. Without them and like-minded organizations, opportunities such as these for our children would be little more than a pipe dream.